Article: Versatility in the learning environment is critical: Head L&D, AirAsia India

Learning & Development

Versatility in the learning environment is critical: Head L&D, AirAsia India

Tanu Shrivastava, Head - L&D at AirAsia India, talks to People Matters about enabling learning at a time when employees express increased levels of stress and burnout, significant shifts in mindset and practice post 2020 and highlights how L&D can help cushion the pandemic triggered blow for organizations and the workforce.
Versatility in the learning environment is critical: Head L&D, AirAsia India

Tanu Shrivastava is Head - L&D at AirAsia India.

Tanu comes with an illustrious experience of over 18 years, with 12 years in leading and managing projects, HR diagnostics, talent strategy, assessment centres, succession planning, content development and designing behavioral interventions including facilitation. She has worked across multiple industries including BFSI, auto, manufacturing, FMCG, hospitality, pharma, and IT/ITES.

In this exclusive interaction with People Matters, Tanu talks about shaping talent strategies to enable learning at a time when employees express increased levels of stress and burnout, behavioral attributes critical to maintaining and building business sustainability, and highlights how learning and development can help cushion the pandemic triggered blow for organizations and the workforce.

What does ‘continuous reinvention’ represent for AirAsia India?

Continuous reinvention for AirAsia India has been our ability to seamlessly adapt to the changing needs of our people (our Allstars and customers) and our business in the face of the pandemic. AirAsia India employees are referred to as Allstars.

From introducing more flexibility in work from home policies and accessible medical assistance for our people, we have been able to change the way we operate as an organizational unit. 

We discovered new ways of driving engagement, redesigned our approach and SOPs to adapt to the changing needs of our guests by introducing a slew of contactless procedures with digital innovations.

Continuous reinvention has been about agility and innovation in our services to deal with these unprecedented times. This is a year where literally in the eye of the storm, we have flown tonnes of  medical  supplies/vaccines  across the country, helped 4,000 odd stranded migrants reach their homes, led the country in deliveries of cargo, worked towards leveraging IT measures to aid in customer interactions and brought in world class standards of hygiene. 

What were some significant shifts that AirAsia India witnessed, in mindset and practice, as an outcome of the instances of 2020?

In the words of Carl Jung, ‘Crisis does not create character. It reveals it.’ The character of any organization is its culture and we are happy to share that AirAsia India has been able to retain its cultural fabric even during this tough time as is evidenced from our being certified as a Great Place to Work - for the second consecutive year! 

2020 made us realize that airlines could be grounded, but we could use that time to sharpen our skills and revisit our processes to be ready to take off once the skies opened up.

As our MD & CEO, Sunil Bhaskaran, often quoted  ‘Never Let a Good Crisis go to Waste’, Winston Churchill’s popular adage, - that became our mantra. 

We realized we could be physically distanced but remain emotionally connected - through daily virtual meets, wellness and learning initiatives, be constantly creative in our approach to maintaining a connect with our young and growing workforce. 

We realized how to integrate technology even more to enhance customer experience whether through facial recognition and contactless boarding experiences, or leveraging IT to assist in customer support. 

We focused on a three pronged approach: Staying agile in our response, Innovating quickly and putting our People first!   

How is the organization approaching the skilling agenda through a turbulent time for both business and its people? What are some focus areas under capability building to prepare for the uncertainties that lie ahead?

For an airline, Safety and Service are non-negotiable. It is the core of who we are and our approach to skilling has always been centred around these themes. Our bridge from where we are to where we want to be will be continued skilling of our people in future ready skills such as digitalization, creative thinking and working with ambiguity. 

In 2020, in spite of being grounded, we launched a new initiative in peer to peer learning - C.A.Ts (Certified AirAsia India Trainers) wherein we inducted a pool of internal trainers from our crew, ground operations, security and engineers. This group of 60 odd subject experts was trained to conduct virtual behavioral workshops focused on customer service.  Every fortnight, they conducted virtual programs for their teams, live online, discussed and brainstormed  current problems at work. Nearly ⅔ of the organization connected on this and it has brought in tremendous change in our customer satisfaction scores. C.A.Ts is a branded programme today and helped us create a culture of continuous peer to peer learning. It is constant, live, real-time, totally contextual and that has built its credibility. 

What behavioral attributes do you think are critical to maintaining and building business sustainability? How are you connecting these attributes with the skilling curriculum for leadership and employees?

At AirAsia India the major focus has been to increase the learning maturity of the organization and align development with business impact. The essential attributes to achieve this would be consistent customer centricity, working with and through technology and leadership enablement. How we keep creating a competitive advantage for ourselves and how we align our teams to take that forward - that is the key. 

Our skilling curriculum is linked to our core competencies that have been framed by our functional leaders who have been drivers of learning in the true sense of the word.

Our learning initiatives are focussed on developing these attributes for leadership and employees, which thus directly link up with business needs. 

How are you shaping talent strategies to enable learning at a time when employees express increased levels of stress and burnout?

Talent strategies are driven as much by business requirements as by the learning agility of the target audience. During these times of stress and burnout, using a variety of learning tools is helpful. Quick learning bytes for a workforce on the go, app based learnings help employees pace their learning at their comfort. Peer to peer counselling, regular focussed group discussions and wellness initiatives have allowed people to cope and speak up. 

Live online sessions bring in much needed engagement and screen time with our colleagues and learning cohorts aid in frequent discussions. We all need a push sometimes and here is where peer to peer learning adds a boost. Versatility in the learning environment is critical. 

With the airline industry taking a massive hit on account of the pandemic, can learning and development help cushion the blow for organizations and the workforce?

L&D constantly pushes you to explore new horizons for yourself - if you allow it, and as a result it brings in greater opportunities for your organization.

Ask our team of C.A.Ts (Certified AirAsia India Trainers) who would have never thought they would be training their own peers on subjects totally unrelated to what they have majored in! 

The day we stop learning is the day we start dying - as people and as organizations. I truly believe keeping a curious mind is the best way to manage this situation. Ups and downs are inherent in industries and in retrospect we will look back and see how we managed best and perhaps have some wonderful stories to narrate!

As a talent leader, what are your key priorities in navigating the ongoing disruption?

My key priorities are always people. We have a very diverse workforce ranging from very young crew, to ground services and security personnel, engineers, professionals in marketing, data analysts, sales, finance etc. 

As an organization, we are focused on leveraging this diversity, continuing to make it a great and a happy place to work while ensuring a sustained talented workforce that constantly reinvents itself.

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Topics: Learning & Development, #ReinventToReimagine

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